Children are the future, whether we want them or not.
Zombies! Well, technically, people infected by a special strain of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus which causes them to mindlessly try to infect any living tissue called “hungries,” but they’re zombies, people. The only hope for humanity is in the half-breed second generation hungries that have kept their ability to think, but still crave flesh mindlessly if it’s around. They can be pacified by a blocker gel that masks human scent, and then behave normally.
In England, Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn “Give her a f*cking Oscar, please” Close) runs a facility that is trying to study the second generation children and develop a vaccine to the fungus that caused the zombies. The facility is supervised by Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine) and the children are taught by Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton). The top student is Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a girl who appears to possess more creativity and intelligence than the other second-gen children. When the facility is breached, the group tries to make their way to a new base through a horde of zombies, with Melanie being humanity’s last hope.
So, some of you probably noticed from the description that this film sounds fairly similar to the video game The Last of Us, particularly the fact that the zombies were caused by the Ophiocordyceps fungus spreading to humans and that a young infected girl is our only hope. I won’t deny that there are a lot of similarities… to the point that we see a number of overgrown buildings in one shot that make me feel a lot like the setting of the game and that sneaking is how most of the characters avoid the zombies. However, it’s a completely different type of narrative playing out and let’s not pretend that most zombie films don’t steal settings or rules from other stories.
A big part of why The Girl With All The Gifts works is that the story is solid. It’s not just using zombies as a metaphor (although they are used that way, as most good zombie films do), it’s also telling a story of a child growing up in a world that seems to be without hope. Melanie is constantly looked down upon by almost everyone around her due to the fact that she is part zombie (and she can’t control her urges very well if they kick in), but she still tries to do her best to please those she cares about. There is a running debate in the film as to whether she is actually human or just a fungus that presents as human, and it clearly weighs on many of the characters. It adds an interesting question on the nature of humanity that is answered differently than you might expect.
The performances are also top-notch around the board. Glenn Close may not be in the kind of film that she usually thrives in, but she’s still a superb actress. I’ll acknowledge that I get a large amount of satisfaction from watching a seven-time Oscar nominee kill a zombie, as well. Paddy Considine’s performance is amazingly nuanced, despite the fact that he originally presents as a stock character. Gemma Arterton manages to similarly play a person who is managing, despite everything she witnesses, to treat Melanie like a human being. You can feel that she really loves the girl, but also that she knows the weight of the situation. Sennia Nanua is amazing in this, despite her young age. She manages to portray a bright, inquisitive, but also feral and ruthless child, depending on the scene. Just terrific acting all around.
Overall, if you’re a fan of Zombie movies, you probably need to watch this. I really thought it was well done.
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